Dynamics of Research Scholar-Supervisor Relationship : A Study of Conflict Resolution among Indian Research Scholars
The pivotal role that R&D plays in a nation’s development is well recognized globally. Even India has made long strides in this area post-independence. However, it is plagued by issues such as lack of investment, dearth of research work force, poor quality of research output, lower enrollment and inefficient policies. India has for the last few years; strongly felt the need for the increase in the quality and the quantity of research output. This has direct implications on research scholars who are considered as foot soldiers of research institutions in India. Besides the pressure to outperform, research scholar’s face challenges on multiple fronts— academic, personal, financial, and social. To successfully navigate through these challenges a cordial relationship with the research supervisor is most desirable. However, this is not easily achieved as there can be various conflict situations arising between a supervisor and a research scholar. Resolving these conflicts amicably is essential for smooth sailing of the research journey. Thus, studying the nature of conflicts between research scholars and supervisors; and investigating the patterns in conflict resolution behavior of research scholars is a challenging and complex research problem. This was accomplished in three phases. In the first phase, we analyzed the relationship between the Big Five Personality types (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Openness and Consciousness) and the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Resolution Styles (Collaborating, Compromising, Accommodating, Competing, and Avoiding). This was motivated by past studies linking personality and conflict resolution behavior. In the second phase, we used a Narrative based instrument to determine the dominant styles of Conflict Resolution employed by the research scholars. This was motivated by the strength of Narrative approach in effecting a change in the belief systems of individuals as demonstrated in past studies. The third phase involved modeling two Conflict Resolution Styles — Collaborative (high assertion and high cooperation) and Competitive (high assertion and low cooperation) — using influence functions applied to the research scholar – supervisor relationship. Results from the first study indicated that Accommodation and Avoiding were the two most preferred styles of conflict resolution employed by research scholars. We found association between personality types and conflict resolution styles: Agreeableness with Accommodation, Avoiding and Competing; Openness with Accommodation and Competing; Neuroticism with Accommodation; and Extraversion with Avoiding. Further, research scholars in advanced stage (>3 years) were found to be more Accommodating than those in the early stage (<3 years). Our second study showed that research scholars while evaluating a conflict situation objectively as an observer, consistently suggested co-operative styles of conflict resolution (Collaboration and Compromising). It also highlighted the role of the nature of conflict situation and the supervisor response, on choice of conflict resolution styles. The third study emphasized the effectiveness of Collaboration style of conflict resolution in maintaining a fruitful relationship with the supervisor in the long-term. In summary, the results emphasized and provided future directions to encourage research scholars to seek out co-operative ways of resolving conflicts with supervisors.
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